Restricting how vape shops operate will hurt smokers trying to quit, local advocate says

Ontario is proposing changes to the law that would restrict where people would smoke medical marijuana and e-cigarettes. But the changes will hurt local businesses and customers, one Waterloo vape shop owner says.

‘Vaping’s not smoking,’ Ponyboy Vapes owner says

The owner of Ponyboy Vapes in Waterloo and Guelph says new laws that would prevent his customers from trying out devices and e-juices in his stores will hurt those who are trying to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. (Nam Y. Huh/The Associated Press)

A local vape shop owner says changes the provincial government wants to make to where people can use e-cigarettes will hurt those who want to turn to vaping as a way to quit smoking.

"The biggest concern that I myself and other vendors have is more for that new vaper coming in, somebody that's maybe taking a chance with using this instead of trying to use tobacco anymore. They won't be able to have the same access to quality care and customer service that we're able to provide right now," Jason Vickers, owner of Ponyboy Vapes located in Waterloo and Guelph, told CBC News in an interview.

Last week, the province announced proposed changes to the Smoke-Free Ontario Act and the Electronic Cigarettes Act that would ban using medical marijuana and e-cigarettes in all the same spots where smoking tobacco cigarettes isn't allowed.

That means all enclosed businesses, including vape shops like the ones Vickers owns.

"We're frustrated with the fact that we keep getting lumped into tobacco and it's not smoking. Vaping's not smoking. There's no smoke involved. So to treat it like tobacco is very frustrating," he said.

'Harm-reduction tool'

Vaping involves inhaling a water vapour through a device. The juice that is used in the device has varying levels of nicotine as well as some kind of flavouring.

While some people just enjoy the experience of vaping and trying the different flavours, Vickers said vaping is also a "harm-reduction tool" that can be used to help people kick the smoking habit.

Vickers says he has helped an 80-year-old woman pick out vaping supplies because she wanted to stop smoking after 65 years.

And he said a large portion of their client base is between the ages of 60 and 75.

The majority of the sales in his stores are to people who have struggled to quit smoking and have tried other methods and failed.

Vickers said he doesn't expect the changes will affect people who already vape, but it will hurt his ability to help educate new customers.

"We just want to…help people make the right decision and make sure people can be educated in the store and get the proper equipment that's going to work right for them and the proper nicotine levels that's going to work right for them and even finding a flavour that they're really going to enjoy, so that it makes the transition from tobacco into vaping a lot easier," he said.

In Canada, e-cigarettes and "e-liquids" containing nicotine have not been approve for sale. Those products are available in the United States however. 

New restrictions for sales, promotion and use

Under the changes, e-substances would no longer be allowed to be tested in stores and the province wants to expand the list of places where they are prohibited to be sold, and establish rules about the display and promotion of the product.

Changes made to the province's Electronic Cigarettes Act would stop people from using e-cigarettes in enclosed workplaces, enclosed public places and a number of other areas where smoking tobacco cigarettes is currently not allowed including playgrounds, sports fields and restaurant and bar patios.

Vickers calls e-cigarettes a harm-reduction tool and says the industry is being villianized by being lumped in with tobacco. (CBC)

"It is important to ensure that Ontarians are protected from second-hand smoke and from the potential dangers of e-cigarettes. That is why we are proposing these changes and we look forward to the upcoming consultations with our stakeholders," Dipika Damerla, the associate minister of health and long-term care, said in a statement.

Damerla declined to be interviewed about the proposed changes.

Public feedback wanted

Since he opened his locations in 2014, Vickers says he has seen "massive growth" in his business grow each year.

He worries people are not informed enough about vaping, so there's automatically a knee-jerk reaction by people to want to ban it. 

Vickers would like to see vape shop owners organize to propose amendments to the bill that would benefit everyone.

"I think we need to have a little bit more discussion on what works for … the vendors, the consumers and the government," he said.

With the government treating vaping like smoking, "it villainizes us," he said.

The province is seeking public feedback on changes to the smoking and vaping laws. Comments will be accepted until April 24.


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